Developmental pharmacology: neonates are not just small adults.

Acta Clin Belg. 2008 Jan-Feb;63(1):16-24. doi: 10.1179/acb.2008.003.


Neonatal drug dosing needs to be based on the physiological characteristics of the newborn and the pharmacokinetic parameters of the drug. Size-related changes can in part be modelled based on allometry and relates to the observation that metabolic rate relates to weight by a kg 0.75 trend. Until adult metabolic activity has been reached, ontogeny, i.e. isoenzyme-specific maturation and maturation of renal clearance also contributes to drug metabolism, making isoenzyme-specific documentation of maturation necessary. Changes in body composition and ontogeny are most prominent in neonates. The body fat content (/kg) is markedly lower and the body water content (/kg) is markedly higher in neonates. These findings have an impact on the distribution volume of both lipophilic and hydrophilic drugs. Drugs are cleared either by metabolism or elimination. While the first is mainly hepatic, the second route is mainly renal. Both hepatic metabolism and renal clearance display maturation in early life although other covariables (e.g. polymorphisms, co-administration of drugs, first pass metabolism, disease characteristics) further contribute to the interindividual variability in drug disposition. Documentation of these maturational processes based on in vivo 'case' studies is of value since these drug-specific observations can subsequently be extrapolated to other drugs which are either already being prescribed or even considered for use in neonates by the introduction of these observations in 'generic physiologically-based pharmacokinetic' models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Body Size
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pharmacokinetics*